What is intersex/dsd?

'Intersex' and 'diverse sex development' (dsd) are umbrella terms that refer to birth conditions whereby the anatomical, hormonal and/or genetic configuration do not fit easily within the typical parameters of male or female. A variety of possibilities falls under the intersex/dsd umbrellas, and even under the further sub-divisions that circumscribe specific medical diagnoses/conditions.

Historically, the term 'hermaphrodite' was used to refer to the notion of ambiguous genitalia. It is based on a mythological concept that is impossible in human beings (a dual set of functioning male and female reproductive organs in one individual) but was adopted by medicine from the 1870s, before the science of anatomy revealed internal structures/functionality. The term ‘intersex’ was introduced in 1917 and was used in medicine alongside the older terminology until 2005. . At that point a new system based on the term 'disorders of sex development' (DSD) was introduced at an invitation-only meeting in Chicago instigated by, and for (mainly) medical doctors. For further details of intersex and how it relates to the various forms of 'hermaphroditism' see www.aissg.org/21_overview.htm.

Genital 'ambiguity' is only one of many possible features within 'hermaphroditism', intersex or DSD, all of which cover a wider population that includes, for example, XY- women with female-typical external genitalia.

The classical terminology was re-appropriated in the late 20th century by the now defunct Intersex Society of North America (ISNA) whose newsletter was for a while named 'Hermaphrodites with Attitude', and who also promoted 'intersex' as an identity to be proud of. Although DSD has now superseded the older nomenclature in medicine, this conceptualization of body differences as disorders has raised strong objections from people to whom the term refers. Many choose to retain the term 'intersex'. Many do not identify with any of these terms. EuroPSI recognises atypical sex characteristics as part of human diversity and interprets DSD as diverse sex development (dsd).

For a mapping of the various nomenclatures to individual intersex/dsd diagnoses see Table 1 and Table 2 in pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/118/2/e488.full.pdf.